Philadelphia Mayoral Candidate Guide: Allan Domb
The People's Businessman
This profile of Allan Domb is part of our Ultimate Voter’s Guide to the 2023 Philadelphia Mayoral Race. For the full guide and to read more profiles, go here.
“On my first day on the job, every City of Philadelphia employee will be instructed to answer the phone and say, ‘Welcome to the City of Philadelphia. How may we help you?’”
In three separate conversations over the past year, the developer turned Councilmember turned mayoral hopeful made this point repeatedly. It illustrates what Domb, 67, really is at the end of the day: a (hugely) successful, down-to-earth business owner.
He wasn’t always that, though. As his main TV ad reminds us, the “Condo King” (a nickname he’s not fond of) once worked as a shoe-shiner. Washed dishes in a restaurant. Mopped floors as a janitor. Yada yada; you get the point. Today, the founder of Allan Domb Real Estate and investor in some of Philly’s most popular restaurants doesn’t need the work — but does want to be our mayor. “We’re in a critical moment,” he says, “and I want to do everything I possibly can to make sure the city moves in the right direction.”
Local business owners, some of whom are nervous about the prospect of, say, Helen Gym as mayor, love Domb, who is as capitalist and pro-business as a Democrat comes. And those hugely popular streeteries that threw restaurants a lifeline during the worst days of COVID? That was all Domb. His closest comparison in the race might be grocery-store mogul Jeff Brown, another older, successful white entrepreneur. But as Mustafa Rashed — president and CEO of Bellevue Strategies, a Democratic government relations, advocacy, and strategic consulting firm — points out, unlike Domb, Brown has “never been publicly vetted before,” while Domb has nearly two Council terms under his belt, with a record of quiet successes. Though some observers wonder if they’ve been too quiet.
Also, while Domb has actually “voted against his own interests” in Council, Larry Ceisler — longtime Philly political analyst and founder of public affairs strategy firm Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy — says, some voters might perceive conflicts because of his real estate holdings. And “the African American community is concerned about gentrification,” Joann Bell — director of the Philadelphia Government Office of lobbying firm Pugliese Associates — says. “So why would they vote for the Condo King?”
Candidate Crib Sheet
City Councilmember at Large
- Domb’s leadership style feels Rendellian — an asset in a city longing for strong leaders.
- With his real estate holdings and two citywide election wins, there’s a name-recognition edge over everyone not named Helen Gym.
- Thanks to deep campaign coffers, he got his message out on the airwaves earlier and more often than everyone but Jeff Brown.
- Pushed through a bill to provide much-needed wage-tax relief to 60,000 households.
- Donated his Council salary to Philly public schools.
- Changed the way we collect delinquent taxes from absentee landlords and reformed out-of-control commercial property assessments.
- Demographics. There’s a sentiment among some voters that it’s time for a woman mayor. Also, unfair comparison, but Trump sort of poisoned the well for rich white businessmen.
- Sometimes, says Joseph Hill, senior principal of public strategies for Cozen O’Connor, Domb “seems more comfortable discussing policy and budgets than working the crowd at a block party.”
Three Big Questions
Who and what is holding Philly back right now, and what will you do about it?
DOMB: A lack of leadership. You’ll always have a crisis or problem to deal with, but a strong leader will work with everyone to get the best possible results.
Number two is, obviously, violence. And long-term, violence is all about education. We need to teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship to the kids in all of our schools, from K-12. A student in high school should be able to go to school four days a week and on the fifth day have the option to get a job and get paid.
We need to develop two high schools, one for trades and one for public safety. We engage the trade unions and ask them for a commitment that once the kids complete these classes, they will have a good job, whether they want to be an electrician or a carpenter. And those who attend the public-safety high school can go right into the fire department or become an EMT at 18. You can’t be on the police force until you’re 21, so we create a cadet program for when they’re 18, and they can answer phones and intern with the ATF, the DOJ, the Attorney General’s office, the DA’s office; then at 21, we can hire them. The Phillies wouldn’t be a success if they didn’t have triple-A and double-A baseball, and same thing here. These schools would grow our future workers.
What is your number one priority as mayor?
We need to get the violence under control. But to do that for the long term, we also need to take people out of poverty, develop better-paying jobs for them, build them affordable housing, and give them a world-class education.
How do you bring people/power in this city together and build consensus in order to get things done?
It’s a style of leadership, and it starts with this: People have to like you, and people have to trust you, and then they will be willing to work with you. That’s exactly what I tried to do on City Council for seven years.
When the pandemic hit and the hospitality industry was absolutely crushed, I called for a Zoom with 125 people, and we all worked together and got it done. We kept the restaurants alive and saved thousands of jobs. What we really need in a leader is somebody who can ignite the biggest economic boom ever seen, extend the subway to the Navy Yard, clean up the neighborhoods across the city, and have a business plan for every single Council district. I bring a skill set to the city that is unusual.
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Published as “Allan Domb: The People’s Businessman” in the April 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.